Personal Finance

Disney-Fox merger gets shareholder approval. Here's what consumers can expect

Key Points
  • The deal gives the combined company ownership of a greater share of popular movies and programming, which also means control of how that content is delivered to consumers.
  • Disney already has plans to begin offering its own streaming service next year, which coincides with when its agreement with Netflix ends.

With the merger between two media giants, Twenty-First Century Fox and Walt Disney Company, receiving shareholder approval on Friday, a key question is: what does this mean to consumers?

Apparently, consumers will likely not benefit from such a deal, industry experts say.

 Walt Disney's $71 billion purchase of much of Twenty-First Century Fox's assets gives the combined entity control of a greater share of popular movies and programming. While the deal won't directly raise existing costs to access Disney or Fox content in the near-term, it also doesn't provide any downward pressure on prices.

"There's nowhere to point to where a cost benefit [to consumers] could come from," said Richard Greenfield, a media analyst with institutional brokerage BTIG in New York. "This is about increasing scale and having more leverage."

Robert A. Iger, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company, attends the unveilling ceremony of six themed parks of Shanghai Disney Resort at Shanghai Expo Center on July 15, 2015 in Shanghai, China.
VCG | Getty Images

The U.S. Justice Department approved the merger in June, as long as Disney sells off 22 regional sports networks included in the deal. The Fox network and Fox News are among the business lines excluded from the merger.

Comcast dropped out of bidding war for Fox's assets a week ago, clearing the way for Friday's shareholder vote on the Disney deal.

The rise of streaming services has spurred legacy media companies like Disney to find ways to compete with digital-age powerhouses such as Netflix and Amazon, which not only offer original content but also have international distribution channels. Netflix alone boasts 130 million worldwide subscriptions.

In contrast, Disney and Fox have historically focused on content, including feature films and programming that reaches consumers through distribution channels largely controlled by others, such as theaters and cable providers.

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Disney — whose assets include Lucasfilm, Pixar, ESPN, Marvel and ABC Television — already plans to offer its own streaming service in 2019 as a new way for consumers to access its content.

The move also will mean cutting out the middleman for distribution. Already, the company is ending its licensing agreement with Netflix at the end of 2019, meaning Disney movies will be pulled from the lineup.

Launching its own service means Disney-owned films ranging from "Black Panther" and "Iron Man" to "Monsters, Inc." and "Toy Story" could be available on the new service, as well as Fox-owned blockbusters such as "Deadpool" and the X-Men series.

It's uncertain how much the Disney streaming option would cost. Netflix charges between $8 and $14 a month, depending on the service you choose. Amazon Prime, which comes with access to its streaming service, costs $13 monthly.

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Meanwhile, the Disney-Fox merger could cause customers of internet TV provider Sling to see changes in their subscription lineups. As it stands, Disney assets — which include ESPN and ABC channels — are part of one $25-a-month package. Fox properties are included in a separate, but same-priced option.

"That probably won't be sustainable," Greenfield said.

Additionally, the merger also means the combined company will control two-thirds of another streaming service, Hulu (each already own about a third). However, former bidding rival Comcast owns the remainder.

Greenfield said it's uncertain at this point what will happen with Hulu, given the current ownership structure.

Disney has been the most vocal of all the studios about the importance of maintaining theatrical movies.
Richard Greenfield
Media analyst at BTIG

The Disney-Fox merger, which is expected to be finalized by early next year, follows other consolidation in the industry. For instance, AT&T — which owns satellite provider DirectTV and has a captive network of smart-phone users — just completed its merger with Time Warner in June.

That deal brought together AT&T's distribution power and Time Warner's content (the company owned CNN, HBO and Warner Bros. film and TV studios).

Although Disney is aiming to position itself in a digitally driven media landscape, the company isn't expected to abandon its roots. In other words, you'll still likely have to head to the theater to see its new releases.

"Disney has been the most vocal of all the studios about the importance of maintaining theatrical movies," Greenfield said.

Disclosure: Comcast is the owner of NBCUniversal, parent company of CNBC and